William Penn – combining convenience with great experience
Nikhil Ranjan, the young and dynamic Managing Director of William Penn is credited with creating, almost single handed, the e-commerce space for fountain pens and all related accessories in India, that too with multiple brick and mortar stores across different cities. A prime mover, William Penn now virtually straddles the space, constantly innovating, re-inventing itself, as it were. Here in an exclusive interview with www.inkedhappiness.com, he talks about his passion for the pen, about the brand he has created and the plans he has for the future. Excerpts:
Q1. How do you view William Penn – as India’s most popular destination for aficionados; a lifestyle store that also sells pens; or, another e-commerce venture that is obsessed with growth and is willing to head in any direction the market dynamics dictate?
Nikhil Ranjan, William Penn : William Penn is a multi-brand store for premium stationery, pens and men’s accessories. It is a lifestyle brand in the sense that it caters to the premium end of the market and not necessarily for the student or someone who is looking for basic stationery. The e-comm platform extends the offering of the company online and nothing more. Both the stores and the online platform will continue to co-exist to combine convenience and a great experience.
Q2. Seventeen years of marketing writing instruments and accessories – to a generation that considers the very art of writing passé – what has been the key points of this journey? What lessons have you learnt, what innovations introduced that are worth sharing, emulating?
Nikhil Ranjan, William Penn: Over the 17 years, we have seen the world change significantly. At least in our business, with the emergence of technology for communication and the mobile phone, writing and hence ‘the writing instrument’ had lost its importance. But I see today, that writing is making a comeback – in a different way. People are not writing to communicate with each other, but writing to make notes, they are maintaining journals and interestingly using it as an analogue alternative to an otherwise digital world.
Q3. You have created, virtually single-handed, the e-commerce space for writing instruments in India. How does the market, especially of fountain pens, look to you from your vantage point?
Nikhil Ranjan, William Penn: I see writing making a comeback among the younger generation, albeit slowly. And when younger people are taking to writing, they are exploring the world of fountain pens – probably for the first time. I see this trend only growing if we are to go by the trend world-wide.
Q4. Do you see a resurgence in the demand for fountain pens? If yes, what cause would you attribute to the same? A protest against the digital domination of our lives? A faddish yarn for the retro? A desire for the pleasure of putting pen on paper? Or something else?
Nikhil Ranjan, William Penn: The resurgence is a because of all of the above! And it is aided by the options available in fountain pens, the information that freely is available through social media. As technology continues to pervade all facets of our life, I feel that physical writing will be seen a form of protest against being completely controlled by digital devices. It is also an outlet to express ourselves, our feelings, our creativity in an otherwise digital world. Hence, you see the emergence of adult colouring and art.
More importantly, is it here to stay, or is it just a flash in the pan? I think it is here to stay.
Q5. What are your plans for William Penn? Where do you see the chain in five-year’s time? What more can we expect from our most preferred pen-and-accessory partner in the near future?
Nikhil Ranjan, William Penn: As people’s income increases, people are going to explore more forms of analogue devices and stationery & pens is one such category that will continue to become more important in people’s lives. William Penn will continue to evolve and ensure that customer finds the widest variety and the best experience.
Q6. What prompted you to launch the Pennline brand? What will be its key characteristics? Which niche are you targeting with it? With Sheaffer distributorship, Montblanc accolade, Lapis Bard acquisition and the launch of Pennline (not to mention Quikrite) are we witnessing your journey coming full-circle as it were?
Nikhil Ranjan, William Penn: Having been a distributor of many world-renowned brands, we found an opportunity to use our knowledge of the Indian consumer to offer him/her something ‘Indian’ in Pennline. With our foray into men’s accessories, we found an opportunity to acquire an English brand and diversify our portfolio of premium accessories through this brand. I feel that we in India are capable of building brands that can now be taken to the rest of the world!
Q7. What are you doing to revive the rich legacy of Indian pen making, especially the hand turned ebonite pens from South India for example, that are still sought after by connoisseurs around the world? As India’s prime mover in the space, what do you feel, should be your responsibility to ensure that this art form does not die out? What are you doing towards this end?
Nikhil Ranjan, William Penn: We are a retailer and we would be happy to promote any brand, be it Indian too, as long as it is appreciated by our consumers.
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